Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh is located at the southwestern end of the state of Pennsylvania approximately 300 miles (500 km) due west of Philadelphia. It is situated in the western foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers join to create the great Ohio River. The tip of land formed between the confluence of the two rivers is locally known as “the Point” and the adjacent city of Pittsburgh is situated upon its “Golden Triangle”.

The Point © PC&VB
The tip of land formed between the confluence of the two rivers is locally known as “the Point” and the adjacent city of Pittsburgh is situated upon its “Golden Triangle”.

The Steel City

Pittsburgh is often called “the Steel City” as it was once the major iron and steel manufacturing center for the United States of America. During the first half of the twentieth century, the three river valleys were crowded with numerous steel mills and foundries. The air was constantly filled with smoke and the rivers were seething with industrial waste. The surrounding farmlands were dotted with mine shafts and great mountainous slate dumps. Trains and river barges incessantly shuttled immense quantities of coal, minerals and finished steel up and down the valleys.

Today, it is hard to believe that Pittsburgh was once such an industrial giant. The steel mills are gone. The air is clean, and the river waters are pure. Pittsburgh has evolved into a beautiful, modern city with many attractions. It is now a center of technological industry with prestigious institutions of higher learning and medical research. It offers many cultural attractions, entertainment venues and sports events. It has become a very nice place to live or to work.

Pittsburgh International Airport is a modern facility located approximately 12 miles west of downtown. It is currently under utilized, so congestion and delays are infrequent. Taxis, limousines or shuttle buses can take you to downtown Pittsburgh within 20 minutes.

There is one hotel located on the airport property and several others within a few minutes drive. In suburban Greentree, ten miles east of the airport and two miles from the city, you can find a nice selection of hotels: and naturally, there are hotels located in and around downtown Pittsburgh. There are also a few hotels located in Oakland, the cultural and educational district of the city. There are clusters of hotels near the exits of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Monroeville, an eastern suburb, and in Warrrendale, north of the city.

If you approach Pittsburgh from the airport, you will pass through a long tunnel beneath Mount Washington. As soon as you exit the tunnel, you will be on a bridge crossing the Monongahela River. The point at the confluence of the two rivers and the Golden Triangle with its gleaming array of tall buildings forms a spectacular panorama immediately before you. This sudden vista is breathtaking.

Cathedral of Learning © Pittsburgh Convention & Visitors Bureau
The University of Pittsburgh’s “Cathedral of Learning”, a 42-story high neo-gothic structure, dominates the skyline of Oakland.

The Golden Triangle

At the point where the two rivers converge, a large water fountain spews a column of water. This was the location of the old French Fort Duquesne, which later became the British Fort Pitt. Across the River, on the northern banks of the Allegheny, are the new football stadium, the new baseball park and the Science Center. Within the “Golden Triangle” formed by the rivers, rises a cluster of tall buildings including the post-modern glass castle of PPG plaza and the rust-colored monolith of the US Steel Building. This business and corporate center of the city houses various cultural attractions including a symphony hall, an opera house and several theaters. Unfortunately, most of the shopping, living and entertainment attractions are located in suburban neighborhoods, but enough attractions remain to make downtown a place well worth visiting.

Pittsburgh is compact enough that you can stroll around the entire “Golden Triangle” area in a few hours. Be sure to cross the Smithfield Street Bridge over the Monongahela River to Station Square on the “South Side”. From there, you can take a funicular; known as the “Monongahela Incline”, to the top of Mount Washington for a tremendous view of the city. If you have a car, you can drive a few miles down the south bank of the Ohio River and up the hill to the West End Overlook for an even more spectacular panorama of the Point. Taxis can take you around town, but you must telephone for a pickup, as you cannot hail taxis on the street.

South Side, North Side and the Strip District

About a mile up the southern bank of the “Mon” River is the trendy restored steel worker’s neighborhood known simply as “the South Side”. It features a great selection of boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants, bistros and entertainment venues. It is also a bedroom community for young urban professionals and a hangout for folks in search of recreational activities and entertainment.

Another popular entertainment area is the old produce district, known locally as “the Strip District”. It is situated adjacent to the Golden Triangle just a few blocks up the Allegheny River from the new Convention Center. It contains the very interesting Pittsburgh History Museum and a unique mixture of shops, restaurants, grocers, boutiques and nightclubs.

All of the area north of the Allegheny River is known simply as “the North Side”. The new football stadium, home to the famous NFL Pittsburgh Steelers and the new baseball field, home to the Pittsburgh Pirates are clearly visible on the riverbank. This is also the location of the Andy Warhol museum, the Pittsburgh Science Center, the Children’s Museum and the Pittsburgh Aviary.

Baseball Stadium © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
The new football stadium, home to the famous NFL Pittsburgh Steelers and the new baseball field, home to the Pittsburgh Pirates are clearly visible on the riverbank.

Oakland neighborhood

The old university neighborhood known as Oakland, lies about two miles back from the Point atop the hills between the two rivers. It is the original cultural, educational and medical center of Pittsburgh. The University of Pittsburgh’s “Cathedral of Learning”, a 42-story high neo-gothic structure, dominates the skyline of Oakland. Next to it is the exquisitely charming miniature-gothic Heinz Chapel. You can venture into the Cathedral of Learning and stroll though its kingly gothic-style commons rooms on the ground floor. They are surrounded by a collection of unique nationality classrooms. Each room is decorated and furnished in the authentic folk style of a different nation.

Just across the street from the Cathedral of Learning are the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and Art, the Carnegie Library and the Carnegie Music Hall. A few blocks away in Schenly Park, is the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Also located in Oakland are Carnegie Mellon University, Carlow University and Chatham College. It is likewise home to the prestigious University Medical Center with its array of hospitals, clinics and medical research facilities. The Oakland neighborhood exudes a college-town atmosphere with plenty of inexpensive restaurants, bars, entertainment venues and student hangouts.

Places to eat and to shop

There are great dining opportunities throughout the Pittsburgh area. The South Side, the Strip District and the Waterfront have great selections of good restaurants as well as some nice bars and entertainment spots. The top of Mount Washington features a variety of fine restaurants with spectacular views overlooking the city. For a real Pittsburgh specialty, stop in one of the Primanti Brothers restaurants for their world-famous cheese steak sandwich. Their singular concoction features a steak-cheese burger piled high with French fried potatoes and cole slaw served between two thick slabs of fresh Italian bread. This meal-on-a-sandwich is hard to get your hands around, but it tastes great.

The best shopping locales are found in the suburban neighborhoods. There are some boutiques and shops in downtown, the South Side, the Strip District and Oakland, but the really large shopping centers are outside of the center city. The Mall at Robinson is located near Greater Pittsburgh Airport. The new Waterfront shopping district is located about 5 miles from downtown in Homestead along the Mon River. There are also shopping malls at South Hills Village, at Century Three south of the city, on McKnight Road in the North Hills and in Wexford north of the city. A large factory outlet discount mall is located along route 79 at Grove City approximately one hour’s drive north of Pittsburgh.

A nice place to visit

Pittsburgh offers plenty of recreational parks and a nice selection of jogging - biking trails. The three rivers provide an abundance of opportunities for boating, water skiing, fishing and kayaking. They also feature tours and excursions on riverboats. Cultural activities include symphony, opera, dance and theater. Depending on the season, NFL football, major-league baseball, National League Hockey or college basketball are all available to sports enthusiasts. The rolling farmland of Western Pennsylvania surrounding Pittsburgh offers many scenic drives. The Laurel Mountains on the edge of the Appalachians fifty miles to the east of the city offers hiking, biking, whitewater rafting and winter skiing.

Pittsburgh is not a major tourist attraction. Most people visit the city for business activities or because it is a convenient place to stop on a cross-country drive. Visitors typically find it is a nice friendly place with a clean modern environment and many recreational opportunities.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © Pittsburgh Visitor and Convention Bureau
Photo Description: Downtown Pittsburgh